Apparently, all types of dating-related bad behaviour need names now. Ghosting. Stashing. Tindstagramming. Catfish, you’ve got a lot to answer for, although thanks for letting everyone know that it’s OK to go grey in your early 30s.
The latest behaviour to receive the buzzword treatment is something that happens to you, rather than something you do to someone else, and, frankly, it’s a little too dark to be given such a cutesy name.
Perspecticide is defined by Lisa Aronson Fontes, a psychology researcher at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, as “the incapacity to know what you know” - essentially, when someone has convinced you that so many lies are true that you’re no longer able to process what’s real and what isn’t.
According to Fontes’ book, Invisible Chains: Overcoming Coercive Control in Your Intimate Relationship, perspecticide was first used to describe brainwashed prisoners of war and cult members, so ideally don’t pretend you invented it if you decide to bring it up at dinner parties.
This particular breed of domestic abuse is incredibly common, damaging and hard to expose. How do you get help when you can’t trust your own thoughts? In this situation, the only source of ‘trustworthy’ information is the abuser themselves: as Fontes explains “the abuser defines what love is. The abuser defines what it appropriate in terms of monitoring the partner. The abuser defines what is wrong with the victim, and what she needs to do to change it.” [She uses a female pronoun in this example, but it can, of course, happen to anyone of any gender].
The knock on effects can be catastrophic: “Through perspecticide, people give up their own opinions, religious affiliations, views of friends, goals in life, etc,” Fontes adds. Obviously, there’s a certain amount of that in a lot of relationships, but as she continues, “this is much more nefarious and one-sided.”
There are some horrifyingly extreme examples of this: in one, the abuser convinced his partner that he had put a microphone in her fillings. “He was actually monitoring her through other routes, but she believed what he said — she had no other explanation for why he knew everything about her days. Of course, anyone who she told this to thought she was crazy. This isolated her further.”
If you think you’ve been a victim of perspecticide, or any kind of abusive behaviour, you can contact Victim Support here.